Mark Durie: ‘The threat is not extremism, but Islam’
“Mark Durie warns a cognitive dissonance is stopping many of us from understanding Islamist violence. No, we are not facing the threat of ‘extremism’ but of Islam.”
Another in our series, ‘Reconnecting with Mark Durie’.
Excuse me, but your cognitive dissonance is showing
|Herald Sun issue on the June 2017 Islamic jihad
terror attack in Brighton, Melbourne, Australia.
Islamic terrorism has been a shock to the secular soul of the West. We have tried to address the security challenge, but are not across the intellectual challenge. Recently in the Australian, Jonathan Cole exploded three myths that hamper efforts to counter terrorism: the essentialist claim that Islam is a religion of peace; the idea that jihadists are political actors exploiting religion; and the idea that jihadists are deranged psychopaths. In response, Cole argued that the terrorism debate needs to engage with Islamic theology.
There is a fourth myth not canvassed by Cole, the ‘myth of the extremist’. This is the idea that the jihadist’s condition is a case of ‘extremism’, a state which transcends any particular religion, and which therefore has nothing particular to do with Islam. The myth is that the problem is not what jihadists believe, but the way they believe; not the content of their faith, but the blindness with which they pursue it. This was the view of Charles Wooley’s recent article ‘Blind faith breeds barbarity in Islam as it did in Christianity’.
“A dismissive attitude to religion helps sustain the great Cloud of Unknowing currently surrounding Islamic terror.”
Warnings against taking things to extremes are as old as Aristotle. In modern times, the idea of the extremist was popularised in The True Believer by Eric Hoffer, who claimed that mass movements are interchangeable, so an ‘extremist’ is just as likely to become a communist or a fascist. Hillary Clinton has been an advocate of the view that extremism is the problem behind terrorism. She has argued, without a trace of irony, that the primary challenge to religious freedom in the world comes from people who believe in their faith to the exclusion of all others, and identified religious certainty as the root of intolerance and terrorism.
The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people may go to considerable lengths to minimise the mental discomfort of holding beliefs inconsistent with reality. A famous example, documented in When Prophecy Fails (1956), was a Chicago cult, which believed that an alien spacecraft would land on the earth to rescue cult members from corruption. After the alien landing failed to materialise on the prophesied day and time, the cult countered with increased fervency and proselytism.
“Jihadists perform the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the world today… 30,986 Islamic terrorist attacks since 9/11. If the problem is not Islam, but extremism, where have all the non-Muslim extremists gone?”
Hillary Clinton’s example of present-day Christian extremism was The (Irish)Troubles: ‘We watched for many years the conflict in Northern Ireland against Catholics on the one side, Protestants on the other.’ Charles Wooley went the same route: ‘I remember Christians indiscriminately blowing up innocent civilians during the so-called Troubles in Northern Ireland. They believed God was on their side, so any atrocity was justified.’
In the IRA’s Green Book there is not a single mention of God, Jesus, the Bible, Catholics, Protestants or even religion… the IRA looked for guidance to Marx, not Christ.
In complete contrast to the IRA’s Green Book, materials put out by Islamic terrorists are jam-packed with religious references.
Clinton and Wooley’s cognitive dissonance shows in their blatant mis-perception. Although the Catholic-Protestant divide was the shibboleth for the Irish, in fact the conflict was not driven by religious belief. In the IRA’s Green Book, a handbook for armed resistance against British occupation, there is not a single mention of God, Jesus, the Bible, Catholics, Protestants or even religion. Instead, the crystal-clear goal was to end British occupation, and ‘create a Socialist Republic’. For this the IRA looked for guidance to Marx, not Christ. In complete contrast to the IRA’s Green Book, materials put out by Islamic terrorists are invariably jam-packed with religious references.
We live in an era where myths abound, many of which are failing in the face of radical Islamic violence. The sooner we jettison our comforting cognitive short-circuit devices and get on with the rational task of taking Islamic theology seriously, the better.
Dr. Mark Durie is an academic, human rights activist, Anglican pastor, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and Adjunct Research Fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
This article was first published by the Australian Spectator.